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Confession: I Ride a 1x Road Bike and It’s... Okay

I've talked up 1x road bikes for years, but never actually owned one. Now I've finally put my money where my mouth is and built a 1x Aethos. Is it brilliant? Or a disaster? The reality is somewhere in between.

Written by: Bruce Lin

Published on:

Posted in:Road

The bike in question...

Let me be 100% clear — if you are not already interested in riding a 1x road bike, this post isn’t going to change your mind. 

I’ve been experimenting with riding a 1x-equipped Specialized Aethos for several months now. Is it actually any good? Heck yeah, I think it’s great! Do I make any sacrifices to run a 1x drivetrain? Unfortunately, yes, I make many. Is 1x for everyone? Definitely not. Especially not racers.

But I think there are certain riders out there who might like it. Now that I’ve made the switch, I'm probably not going back. 

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A couple of years ago, I kicked the hornet's nest with an April Fools Day post suggesting the UCI ban the front derailleur in favor of 1x road bikes. It was semi-serious, and I even got a pro World Tour rider, Kiel Reijnen, to back me up. Tragically, all the original comments were lost when we moved our site to Disqus, but trust me, they contained A LOT of colorful language. People really don’t like the idea of a 1x road bike. 

Of course, this sparked my curiosity. I continued joking about 1x road bikes, but I had never actually ridden one. I wondered, are 1x road bikes really all that bad? Well, there was only way to find out... 

1x Road bike review SRAM Force AXS XPLR A closer look at my heresy.

It took me a couple of years, but I eventually put a 1x road build together. Here is the basic breakdown:

  • 2022 Specialized Aethos Frame
  • SRAM Force AXS XPLR rear derailleur
  • SRAM Force AXS Crankset - 44t chainring
  • SRAM Force AXS XPLR Cassette - 10-44t

I built this bike last summer and have put just over 1,300 miles on it. I’ve done some centuries, some big climbing days, some fast group rides, and a few Zwift races too.   

Why did I decide to ruin my Aethos like this? I already had an Allez Sprint built to be a flatland crit monster, so my goal was to build the opposite — a lightweight climbing bike. A major 1x critique I often hear about is gear range. I wanted to see if I could set up this bike with enough range to handle the steepest climbs without ruining it for everything else.

Why did I pick Force AXS XPLR? First, I love AXS. I’m a total electronic drivetrain convert. Second, the 12-speed XPLR group was designed for gravel racing, with tighter spacing between the smallest cogs. I hoped this would make jumps between gears less noticeable — another thing 1x haters critique. 

So is my 1x road bike actually any good? Yes! But let me expand on that. I love 1x for off-road riding and I’ve been using 1x on my mountain bikes for nearly a decade, so I’m very used to it and likely a bit biased.

Realistically, any bike that functions properly and is comfortable to ride is a GOOD bike. Anything beyond that is a matter of opinion. 

My 1x road bike is good because it shifts well, it rides well, and it’s reliable and easy to maintain. BUT I’m very aware of the compromises I make to run a single chainring.   

The Pros and Cons of My 1x Road Bike

1x Road Bike Pros

  • It’s simpler than 2x
  • It’s cool (to me) and unique
  • Uhhh… oh no is that it?

1x Road Bike Cons

  • Limited gear range
  • High chain angles
  • Big gear jumps

Let’s address the cons… 

Do I have enough gear range?

Climbing on a 1x was my biggest concern.

Living on the Colorado Front Range means many of my rides include long climbs with occasional 20% grades. For me, a 1:1 granny gear is essential for surviving in the mountains. But I also need a big enough gear so that I don’t get spun out chasing fast riders downhill at 30+ mph. 

My solution was to use two chainrings — a 44t and a 46t — with my 10-44t cassette. With only a 2-tooth difference, I can swap chainrings without changing my chain length. The 44t would give me that precious 1:1 climbing gear. The 46t combined with the 10t cog on the cassette would give me a harder gear (between 50x11t and 52x11t) for fast group rides. 

Was swapping chainrings annoying? Yes. So I stopped. Now I just leave the 44t chainring on because I realized I’m not as strong as I thought and I almost never spin it out. In the 44x10t, I max out around 34 mph at 100 rpm, and if I’m doing that, I’m within seconds of blowing up. 

Ultimately, gear range has been a non-issue for me (if it matters, I’m a mediocre 3.5 w/kg rider). With the right chainring and cassette combo, most riders can get the climbing gear they need for their terrain. Any missing top end will really only matter to high-level racers with big engines (you already know who you are). 

Does the high chain angle reduce efficiency?

Unfortunately, yes. Compared to a 2x drivetrain, the chain angle is more severe at the extremes of the cassette. This increases friction and sucks up precious watts. It also increases wear on the chain and chainring. 

Do I care or actually notice any of this while riding? Not at all. But it’s real. If you’re the obsessive type, efficiency losses like this are an arrow through the heart. 

Are the jumps between gears too big?

With a 2x, you can have more 1-tooth jumps between cogs. My XPLR cassette only has a single 1-tooth jump between the 10t and 11t cogs. When pedaling at high cadences, changing gears will often force me to pedal 10 rpm faster or slower. That’s a pretty decent jump. I'm used to it and it doesn't bother me, but for many, this is the ultimate dealbreaker. 

If you’re on the rivet, struggling to stick to a fast group, maintaining the perfect cadence can be the difference between staying attached and getting dropped. In that case, riding a 2x with a tighter cassette is definitely better. 

Why Even Ride a 1x Road Bike?

1x Road Bike Specialized AethosI still love my flawed baby.

I’ve listed the three major cons above, and there are probably more that I haven’t considered (let me know in the comments!). Knowing all of that, I think any intelligent rider would switch to a 2x set-up. So, am I going to switch? Well… no. 

This may be an irrational answer, but I'm going to keep using 1x because I like it. That’s it. 

Choosing to ride a 1x road bike isn’t too far removed from choosing to ride a singlespeed, a vintage tourer, or any other niche bike. I ride it knowing full well what I’m giving up.

It gives me joy. I like looking down and seeing no front derailleur. I like how similar it feels to pedaling my gravel and mountain bikes. It doesn’t represent peak performance, but it doesn’t need to. I’m just an amateur riding for fun, and my 1x bike does everything I need it to. I can’t defend it any further. 

With the jumps between gears being my biggest criticism, I have considered trying Campagnolo’s 13-speed Ekar group. The Ekar cassette has 1-tooth jumps between the six smallest cogs — a huge improvement over my XPLR cassette. But I like AXS shifting, so I’m sticking with XPLR. If you want to try building a 1x road bike for fast road riding, I’d seriously consider trying Campagnolo. 


What Does the Future Hold for 1x Road?

Check out the guys up front. John Degenkolb and Mads Pedersen raced on 1x bikes at the 2019 Tour of California. Photo: Ray Rogers.

A few pros have experimented with and even won big races (like Paris-Roubaix) on 1x, but those instances are rare, and pros have resources and team mechanics to set up their bikes for specific courses. I don’t foresee a big industry-wide move to 1x anytime soon.

But give it 10+ years, and it could happen. Maybe we’ll have 14-speed cassettes that magically provide both tighter gearing and bigger range. Classified POWERSHIFT hubs are also a super interesting solution that I’m keen to try. (Stay tuned!) 

I plan to ride my current 1x Aethos for several more years. I sell every bike eventually, and because of the 1x setup, I’ll probably have to part out the Aethos to recoup any value. I’ve made peace with that. After living with my 1x road bike for over 1,300 miles, I’ve come to love it. But I understand that it’s a bike only I can love. 

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